Coronations and Funerals: Local Funeral Director Looks Back

Freeman Brothers has been established as a Funeral Directors in Sussex since 1855, when its founder, Bede Freeman, opened a business as a general tradesman who- as was normal in those times- also carried out funerals for his local community in Horsham. The current proprietor of Freeman Brothers, Peter Freeman, is Bede’s great-great-grandson. As you […]

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Freeman Brothers Funeral Directors staff member Abi

Freeman Brothers has been established as a Funeral Directors in Sussex since 1855, when its founder, Bede Freeman, opened a business as a general tradesman who- as was normal in those times- also carried out funerals for his local community in Horsham. The current proprietor of Freeman Brothers, Peter Freeman, is Bede’s great-great-grandson. As you would expect, such a longstanding family business has a large historical archive to delve into. In light of the upcoming Coronation of HM King Charles III,  Freeman Brothers’ Manager, Abi Pattenden, has found some fascinating insights into the company’s past activities which link to other memorable dates in royal history.

Bede Freeman was a toddler when Queen Victoria acceded to the throne in 1837. However, by the time she became the first monarch of the United Kingdom to reign for over 40 years, he was a husband, father, and owner of a thriving business of over twenty years’ standing. The company’s activities were mixed at this time- as his business card shows- and the jobs he undertook were very varied. On 23rd June 1877, three days after Queen Victoria’s Ruby Jubilee, his ledger shows him carrying out one of a series of jobs for ‘The Hon. Mrs Pelham’- making a ‘bee box’.

When Queen Victoria died, in 1801, Bede was operating the business with his elder son, Frederick. His younger son, Albert, was still a boy. Queen Victoria’s son, Albert Edward, became Edward VII, and was crowned in August 1902– the ceremony having been delayed for two months because he suffered from a gastric complaint in the days before the original date. The day prior to the Coronation, Bede and Frederick were hard at work, including preparing an elm coffin and shroud for a Mr Hammond for a private funeral. It was not unusual at this time- as today- for the business to only carry out part of the required work for the funeral, and Mr Hammond seems to have been a relatively regular customer of this type of service. The bill of £2 16s (just under £400 today) seems to have been paid relatively promptly. The 10 years of Edward VII’s reign was a time when Bede and Frederick steadily grew the funeral part of their trade. It’s unclear when Albert Freeman joined the family business- he was definitely fully involved by the time Bede died in 1915.

Edward VII died in 1910, and his son, George, became George V and was crowned in June 1911. His coronation was a large event, as was generally expected by this time, and accompanied by a ‘Festival of Empire’ at the Crystal Palace. Despite the importance of the Coronation, it was held on a Thursday- and, while Bank Holidays had been introduced 40 years previously, additional ones were not yet given to mark events like this. Whatever celebrations the Freeman family indulged in on Coronation day, we see that the following day they were working as normal, preparing a coffin for a Stephen Sturt, who had died that same day, and planning for his funeral at Hills Cemetery the following Tuesday.

George V had a far longer reign than Edward VII and during this time, Freeman Brothers became established in that name, which Albert and Frederick had introduced after Bede’s death. Funerals were their main trade by the time Frederick died in 1931, and it was during this period that Roy, the next generation of the family, was born, in 1927. George V’s death in early 1936 led to a year of constitutional crisis as his eldest son, Edward, initially acceded to the throne as Edward VIII but then abdicated later that same year. As those working in the funeral industry know, there is very little which work completely stops for, and this ledger entry from the Freeman Brothers records of January 1936 shows Albert fulfilling a funeral for a Charles Rayner (who died on the same day as George V) over the three following days.

At this point in history, nobody was to know that the UK would see five monarchs – and the same number of generations of the Freeman family to run Freeman Brothers – but only four coronations during the twentieth century. Next week, we’ll cover the remaining two events, so come back then to learn more!

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Written by Abi Pattenden

Manager

April 26, 2023

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